Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures


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The Streets of London: The Line.

Starting the walk southwardsI’m not going to write too much about this walk as it really belongs to Kate, who has cleverly set her friends the year-long challenge of challenging her. Celebrations for significant birthdays occur in different ways and Kate has come up with a genius plan: creating memories through shared experiences. Not being one for the adrenalin fuelled event, my challenge came with art loving and tracking skills required; completing “The Line” ; a sculpture walk between Stratford and the Greenwich Peninsular.

We had chosen August in anticipation of fine summer weather. Heading out with thunderstorms of biblical proportions forecast wasn’t actually part of the plan but somehow we managed to miss the downpours and successfully navigated our way along the back waters of Bow. Here are the highlights.

The River Lea and Cody Dock

It took a little while to get going as signage along the way wasn’t always the easiest thing to decipher – but we followed our noses southwards and headed into unknown territory.

The rains came down just as we had arrived at Cody Dock – a rather fascinating and curiously empty creative quarter which has been developed post London 2012. As if by magic the man operating the cafe appeared so tea and cake kept us occupied until the rains stopped and we navigated our way southwards via the DLR to the Royal Docks.

The Royal Docks

On a previous visit I had seen several artworks around the dock but there is currently only the one so after a quick photo stop we were up, up and away across the Thames via the cable-car!

 

The Greenwich Peninsular

This is a great section of the walk, which curls around the back of the tent-like O2. The artworks here fit into the environment so well that it could be easy to overlook some of them, especially my favourite,”Here”.

Still dry and now thirsty #ChallengeKate was completed! We headed to the nearest bar and congratulated ourselves with a cocktail in the sunshine.

Happy 50th Kate!!!

©Chez l’abeille  2017

 

 


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The Streets of London: Pullens Yards

It started with a tweet by a publisher I follow. A mention of Pullens Yards, an open studios and a postcode intrigued me; I like to think I know many of the studios around my area but this was new to me. I had a few hours to spare before an afternoon of volunteering at a local theatre and as I had to pass through SE17 on the way I thought, “why not?”

I already knew that behind the Walworth Road in SE London there are many Victorian streets, full of original housing stock, but discovering some beautiful Victorian artisan workshops was a complete surprise.

Pullens Centre Sign

Pullens Centre Sign

The yards sit within the Pullens Estate. This was built between 1870 and 1901 by local builders, James Pullen and Son. Included in the estate design were four yards, of which three remain, Iliffe Yard, Clements Yard and Peacock Yard. The Yards were purpose-built workspaces, designed originally as a work/live spaces, something that is still seen today in several locations around Southwark.

It was a great day to visit – the sun was out and London was basking in a kind of post-election lethargy. As it was quite quiet when I arrived many of the artists were happy to chat. I spent some time in the studio of David Cowley, who seeks to capture his responses to music and literature in his paintings. His work was fascinating and I could have spent all morning chatting with him about art and synaesthesia, but there were three yards to get round so I had to move on.

The yards are a celebration of everything you know about Victorian building. From the wrought iron gates and the cobbled roadway, to the worn out staircases and arched doorways they are the epitome of the attention to detail that the builder brought to a project. Today they continue to house a wide range of artists, from Royal Academicians to lute makers, photographers, jewellers, potters…the list is endless.

I was keen to visit Tiny Owl Publishers who are based in Peacock Yard. This publishing house focuses on books which aim to bridge cultural experiences, creating the most beautiful books about love, friendship or freedoms. I had a lovely conversation with co-founder Karim, who took time to show me their latest publications and the themes they focus on. If you are a fan of picture books that really say something then have a look at their titles. You won’t be disappointed.

Back in the 1970s the workshops and surrounding flats were heading for demolition. Thanks to the far-sighted campaigners who saved them in the face of bailiffs and police, the area was saved and is now a sought after place to live. As we see the shape of the Walworth Road and the Elephant and Castle changing on an almost daily basis, I hope these small-scale spaces remain as a creative hub, continuing to bring a little beauty to our lives.

Peacock Yard

Peacock Yard

The Yards host an Open Studios event twice a year in the Summer and at Christmas. Details can be found via their website http://www.pullensyards.co.uk/

©Chez l’abeille  2017


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A brand new look…

“It is easily overlooked that what is now called vintage was once brand new.”

                                                                                 Tony Visconti
The cover of January’s “Which” magazine was asking a rather big question recently: “Which brands stand the test of time?”
I guess we only have to open the kitchen cupboards to answer this. A quick survey of my kitchen reveals Birds custard, Tabasco Sauce and Bournville cocoa powder, all longstanding familiar brands from childhood to today. However the best place for a stroll through your own sensational history is definitely the Museum of Brands.
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Museum of Brands –  Ladbroke Grove

There’s something rather fabulous about stepping back into your own past. To walk through the “Time Tunnel”, where the museum’s extensive collection is displayed, is also a walk down the collective memory lane.
My main reason for going to the museum was to see the collection of jigsaw puzzles, but in fact I was totally absorbed by the retro packaging and designs. As I moved into the sixties and onwards, sensations were continuously triggered. Memories of sweet tastes or vile ones, good times or bad; the objects created a shared cultural experience that got visitors talking and swopping personal stories. I had a hilarious shared moment with some Australian visitors over the Sixties food packets and memorabilia on display.
The museum has two main parts – the Time Tunnel which walks you through design and branding by decades, from the 1800s to the present day and an exhibition of designs which traces the evolution of very well-known packaging.

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Testing, testing…

Once more I have embarked on the endless project known as “Fixing Chez L’Abeille”. I’ve not had the energy to do anything since the last epic dust storm but the time has come to bite the bullet once again. However, what I thought would be a few days upheaval whilst some simple adjustments to decor and plug location were completed, has turned into a need to rewire my poor old house so everything has ground to an unplanned halt. It’s a situation that is definitely testing me!

Thus, as the sun came out over London town for what seems the first time in months, I was desperate to get out and see something more stimulating than bare plaster walls and holes where uplights once lived.

I was headed for the newly opened Tate Modern extension but halfway there I was waylaid. In fact that really should be weigh-laid because the never visited Kirkaldy Testing Museum was open, so I looked in.

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Now if you’ve ever looked up in Southwark Street, you may have pondered over this inscription:

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The motto “Facts not opinions” gives you some sense that this was a place of science – and as soon as you step through the door you are whisked back to 1874, when David Kirkaldy set up the testing works at No.99.

As a result of the Industrial Revolution many new materials were developed, but their weaknesses were not always understood, resulting in major incidents such as the 1879 Tay Bridge Disaster. Setting himself up as an independent consultant, Kirkaldy designed and built his own testing machine to investigate and check the strength of many different materials used in building and industry.

The museum houses this enormous machine along with many other examples of testing equipment. I wasn’t in time to see it in action but I can only guess how impressive this is, given the size; the bolts alone are the size of my hand!

I did get to see the Charpy machine working – this tests the brittleness of materials and determines the energy needed to break them. This test was invaluable during the Second World War when the hulls of many Liberty Ships  cracked under the extreme conditions in the North Atlantic.

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The Charpy Machine

Visiting this museum I was struck by the sheer brilliance that a combination of human ingenuity, determination, passion and scientific application can achieve. The tests developed in the 19th century out of the Industrial Revolution are still pretty much the tests used today, albeit with probably more health and safety legislation attached to them. So despite the things I need to fix, those Victorians built me a home which is still standing over 100 years later.

As we move forwards into uncertain times and another form of revolution, I hope that some of those truly British characteristics will surface.

The Kirkaldy Testing Museum is open on the first Sunday of the month


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The Streets of London: Postman’s Park.

For years I have listened to Robert Elms on BBC Radio London. His knowledge of things both London and arcane in equal measures is legendary. Many times I heard about Postman’s Park, but had no real clue as to where it was hidden.

So, there I was one day, getting a bit lost whilst trying to get to the Museum of London when I accidentally stumbled across it and of course I had to stop and look!

Postman's Park, St Martin's Le-Grand, London EC1A

Postman’s Park, St Martin’s Le-Grand, London EC1A

This tiny garden in a churchyard acquired the name because postal workers at the old General Post Office would use it as a lunch spot. It also houses one of the most unusual memorials I have seen – the Watts memorial, built in 1900 by Victorian painter and philanthropist GF Watts to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year.

G.F Watts's memorial to heroic self sacrifice

G.F Watts’s memorial to heroic self sacrifice

The Doulton plaques are lovely and tell each story so clearly. The small acts of heroism also give us an insight into how dangerous life in Victorian London must have been – but don’t be fooled into thinking they are all from the 19th Century.

Here are a few I chose because they link to bits of London I live or work in or were just interesting. I shall let them speak for themselves.

©Chez l’abeille  2016

Postman’s Park information can be found here


In which I go in search of an ideal home.

In 10 days time I will have lived in my little house for exactly 20 years. I was pondering on this fact the other day whilst also considering what to do for phase 3 of my repair and update programme. Long time readers may recall the building work I had to put up with a while ago and the idea of going another round with the destructive forces of Victorian dust has made me prevaricate in a major fashion.

I have always thought that there are some people who have grown up homes and then there are those that have, well, not grown up homes I suppose. I’m not sure what actually constitutes a grown up home but I guess it consists of one where:

  • There are no areas that are referred to as “the student zone”
  • Curtains actually hang on proper curtain rails rather than a spectacularly Heath Robinson affair using old blind rods, requiring a metre stick to open and close them
  • Soft furnishings all go together in an organised and clearly thought out colour scheme
  • Dust is invisible
  • There is NO WOODCHIP WALLPAPER. ANYWHERE.

Now that may, or may not be the definitive list of things that make for a grown up house but they are certainly things that would make me feel that I was on the right track. Albeit 20 years late.

So, with this in mind I have begun to gird my loins for “Return of the Builders part 3: The Home Owner Fights Back”. This time I am determined that I will be clear about my plans and decisive in how I want the remaining spaces to look, as I stumble my way towards grown up home status. The trouble is I have only vague notions and rather sketchy plans. Hurrah then for the freebie ticket to the Ideal Home Show 2016 at Olympia that fell into my inbox. Surely this will give me the inspiration and clarity that I need to create my own ideal home of true grown upness?

It is somewhat surprising to me that despite living in London for over 30 years I have never been to the Ideal Home Show. I think the usual timings have always been in school term time, which may explain why not but with the ridiculously early Easter holidays this year I found I was a) free to go on a weekday,  b) in possession of said freebie ticket and c) able to get to Olympia via the Overground on two easily connecting trains.

So what to say about my first foray into the world of ideal homes?

Here are a few of my favourite things!

What I hadn’t expected was the sheer size of the show – it’s immense! Continue reading


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The Streets of London: “Lumiere London”

The sudden plunging temperature and a general sense of January malaise had descended over Chez L’Abeille when out of the ether came a glimmer of light – Lumiere London.

For four chilly winter nights the street of London have been bathed in neon lights and beautiful projections. I went along with three equally layered up friends to the Piccadilly, Regent Street and Mayfair section on the Thursday opening night. We were  completely enchanted by both the lights and the convivial atmosphere. On this near freezing mid-January night, London behaved like it was on holiday. Everywhere we walked, people helped each other with hard to find locations and just chatted about the artworks. How unlike our usual grumpy selves we all were; there was clearly magic in the air.

Luminéoles by Porté par le vent

Les Lumineoles floating in a musical dreamspace

The main roads around Piccadilly and Mayfair were closed which meant there was lots of space to stand and wonder at the spectacle and beauty of the installations. My particular favourites were KeyFrames in Regent Street and Les Luminéoles in Piccadilly. Both were mesmerising for different reasons. Les Luminéoles is a floating, dreamlike piece, using more traditional puppetry skills and human operators (who battled well in the brisk wind that was freezing us half to death!). KeyFrames on the other hand was just funny; a story told through the antics of the animated stick people, who danced, somersaulted and chased each other across the Liberty House facade with increasing complexity. Continue reading